Are You In Your Prime?

"Be on the alert to recognize your prime at whatever time in your life it may occur." Those words were famously spoken by Miss Jean Brodie, the eccentric and dramatic girls' school teacher, in Muriel Spark's celebrated novel The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

The movie version, one of my favourite old school flicks, was my go-to on a recent rainy week-end, and after the movie ended, the phrase 'in your prime' stayed with me.

What does it really mean to be in your prime? We usually think of our prime as occurring within a specific time frame: the best years of one's life, at the peak of one's powers, ready to take on the world. Often, we will attach an age to it, give it a number - a number that may reflect a time in the past.

If you're in your 40's, 50's or 60's and hold this way of thinking, you may be short-changing yourself. What if you flipped the script and viewed your accomplishments from that time (your perceived prime) as the foundation for, rather than the pinnacle of, your greatest achievements? Why not position your experience, knowledge and accumulated wisdom as the building blocks for future success, rather than the end of the story?

In my work as a recruiter and career transition coach, I'm regularly approached by smart, highly accomplished people who are stymied by the current job market. They want to change companies, transition to new careers, re-enter the workforce, and say they're getting little traction in their efforts to do so.

The hard truth is, if you're twenty plus years into your career and you're applying to positions posted online, your resume will likely go into the abyss. Online applications are passive, and a passive approach will not garner positive results at this stage of your working life. To further complicate things, this lack of response erodes confidence at the time you most need to showcase your talents and capabilities. If you do meet a recruiter or potential employer, your diminished confidence shows, and you don't make the shortlist.

A great resume is, of course, important, as is a polished LinkedIn brand; but if you're suffering from a crisis of confidence, the resume and LinkedIn profile will only take you so far. Self-confidence is the first step in a successful career transition. So, what can you do to build your confidence muscle and redefine your self-image?

  • A good place to start is with what I call a Greatest Hits Review: make a list of your strengths and successes and review it every morning. Put it on your phone and read it as you have your coffee or on the subway (on the way to that job you want to change). Memorize it. Remind yourself about all the great things about you every day.

  • Follow a path of continuous learning: take courses, attend lectures, go to meet-ups, learn new skills.

  • Share your knowledge: be a mentor, volunteer, participate in industry/alumni associations, contribute.

  • Put it out there: be visible, comment on LinkedIn posts that resonate with you, write your own posts and articles, make a video and post it.

  • Expand your network across generations: don't self-segregate by age, ask younger people for their opinions and advice, be open to ways of thinking and doing that are not your norm.

  • Step outside your comfort zone every day: push yourself, make calls, invite your connections out for coffee, request informational interviews, offer to speak at events.

If you work at building your confidence, you'll see positive results - just like you see results after regular sessions at the gym. With your confidence at a high, you'll be ready to take the next steps in your transition.

By the end of the movie, Miss Jean Brodie is shown to be misguided, but that doesn't lessen the wisdom of her words. Take it a step further; don't just recognize your prime - define it. You can make it your prime at any time. The decision is yours and you can decide that now will be the most productive stage of your life.